Prof. Weihong Tan
In the past two decades, high-affinity nucleic acid aptamers have been developed for a wide variety of pure molecules and complex systems such as live cells. Conceptually, aptamers are developed by an evolutionary process, whereby, as selection progresses, sequences with a certain conformation capable of binding to the target of interest emerge and dominate the pool. This protocol, cell-SELEX (systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment), is a method that can generate DNA aptamers that can bind specifically to a cell type of interest. Commonly, a cancer cell line is used as the target to generate aptamers that can differentiate that cell type from other cancers or normal cells. A single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) library pool is incubated with the target cells. Nonbinding sequences are washed off and bound sequences are recovered from the cells by heating cell-DNA complexes at 95 °C, followed by centrifugation. The recovered pool is incubated with the control cell line to filter out the sequences that bind to common molecules on both the target and the control, leading to the enrichment of specific binders to the target. Binding sequences are amplified by PCR using fluorescein isothiocyanate–labeled sense and biotin-labeled antisense primers. This is followed by removal of antisense strands to generate an ssDNA pool for subsequent rounds of selection. The enrichment of the selected pools is monitored by flow cytometry binding assays, with selected pools having increased fluorescence compared with the unselected DNA library. The procedure, from design of oligonucleotides to enrichment of the selected pools, takes ∼3 months.